Sharper focus to adult skills

15th June 2001 at 01:00
ALTHOUGH widely reported as being appointed the minister for universities, Margaret Hodge's full title is minister of state for lifelong learning and higher education.

Her portfolio at the new Department for Education and Skills will include universities, adult skills and post-16 education and training. The re-shaping of the education department shows that the Government is giving a much sharper focus to adult basic skills.

The impeccably Blairite daughter of German-Austrian asylum-seekers first built her reputation as a robust and probing chair of the Education and Employment Select Committee. It was that committee that proposed the highly successful education maintenance allowances, and also called for a tightening up of franchising. Then as minister for employment and equal opportunities she championed what she called her early years "revolution".

The man appointed to take forward the skills and lifelong learning agenda is John Healey, MP for Wentworth in South Yorkshire. His background is in employment issues, human rights, disability and industrial relations. From 199-7 he was the TUC's director of campaigns and communications, making him John Monk's right-hand man.

He now teams up with Mr Monks again, as he is deputy chair of the Learning and Skills Council and chair of its Adult Learning Committee.

Alistair Darling, former social security secretary, will head up the new Department for Work and Pensions. He will look after workplace learning, the New Deal and training for the unemployed.

The break-up of the department, which came into being five years ago when the Conservatives created the Department for Education and Employment, has happened despite a recent endorsement of the status quo by David Blunkett, the outgoing education secretary.

There is some concern about how the new arrangements will operate. "There is a question mark over things like how modern apprenticeships will be organised,"said Aidan Relf, education consultant and a former advisor to the TEC National Council. "It will depend on the co-ordination between ministers.If Darling and Morris's relationship is strong, there shouldn't be a problem."

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